AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - April 1994


On December 14, 1993, one of the most dedicated members of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America succumbed to cancer. Mary Jo Thomson was of the mettle that makes a dog club strong and unified. Though visibly ill, she was present at the 1993 national, where she was honored at the annual meeting. Mary Alice Eschweiler, her longtime friend and a founding member of the club, made the tribute. It's fitting to have her share some of her recollections.

"When a potential dog enthusiast first attends a match or show, they should meet a person like Mary Jo Thomson. Mary Jo had the friendly smile and warm handshake that said, 'I welcome you as a person who shares my concern about dogs. Let's work together in that concern.' She could put aside pedigrees and conformation details to see the greater picture. In her relationship with people, she exemplified the character of the two breeds which she loved and worked hard for, the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Great Pyrenees.

"As the mother of five children, she encouraged junior showmanship. Her actions as a member of the board of the BMDCA and several terms as president led her to be the obvious choice as the club's first delegate to the AKC in 1982, a position she filled unti11993. In the club's 25 years of existence, Mary Jo played a major role, having become a member in 1971, through her good friend Mary Dawson, who had introduced her to Bernese.

"Mary Jo was instrumental in seeing the breed through the first and second revisions of the standard, following up with her work on the AKC slide show. When an irregularity occurred in a breeding program, Mary Jo worked with the AKC to have a DNA study conducted, correcting the Stud Book. She was perhaps the only specialty chairperson ever to enjoy the job!

"Practicing what she preached, Mary Jo bred very few litters. Her Roundtop Kennel achievements, with her husband Bill and lovely daughter Mary Beth as handler, included the honor of winning Best of Opposite Sex at the 1984 BMDCA national. This was followed in 1987 by littermates out of that bitch capturing at the BMDCA national Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, with the latter also taking Best of Winners.

"As a judge at Bernese matches and sweepstakes, Mary Jo treated exhibitors as though it were her greatest honor to look at their dogs. She tried to convey that respect for the breed at judges study groups and seminars.

"Last May, Mary Jo traveled to Kansas City for the national specialty, where those of us who knew said our last good-byes to her and where all in attendance felt great honor in seeing her receive the club's prestigious Award for Outstanding Service to the BMDCA.

"She died in mid-December, leaving us with the memories of a positive role model. Her humility and selfless dedication to the Bernese Mountain Dog will be greatly missed."

Thank you, Mary Alice, for your salute to a veteran who won't be at ringside anymore.

As the phone calls crisscrossed the country with word of what we so hoped would be blocked by to day's medical technology, the tears and memories were many. Mary Jo had touched so many lives. Dawson, who knew the Thomsons since the 1960s, noted, "Chronologically, her service to the club includes board member, 1977; president, 1978 and 1979; show chair, 1979; board member, 1980; AKC delegate, 1982 until 1993; sweeps judge at the 1982 national; president, 1985 and 1986; board member 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990."

Even in her passing, Mary Jo sought to serve the Berner, requesting that any memorial contributions be earmarked for the BMDCA Cancer Fund. Checks should be made payable to BMDCA and sent to Lori Jodar, 07999 US 31 North, 505, Charlevoix, MI49720.

Our deepest sympathy is extended to Mary Jo's family, which shared her love of dogs and helped her so she could give so much of her time to the BMDCA.


Most breed devotees are immediately captivated by anything portraying their breed. The less known the breed, the more exciting the discovery. Dawson, a Berner owner since 1966, calls them "strange encounters of the Bernese kind."

Recently, we discussed this after I came across a 1971 letter describing her visit to Europe in which she wrote, "My trip included about three weeks in Russia. . . .. I did not see any Berners or other Sennenhund, nor do I have any evidence that there are any in Russia, but I did have two hints that Berners are not totally unknown in Russia.. First, the, photograph in the Russian translation of Konrad Lorenz's book Man Meets Dog shows a Berner, possibly an East German example. Second, I was astounded to find in the Zoological Museum in Leningrad [now again called St. PetersburgJ a beautifully stuffed Bernese (in the same exhibit case as a Greyhound that had belonged to Peter the Great) labeled 'German sheepdog'!"

Dawson, a distinguished paleontologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, had another "en-counter" while working on a dig. "We were in Taian, Shandong Province, China, in May 1993. One evening we went to a small shop where we saw some ceramic reproductions of the famous Tang horses, so nice that my colleague and I each bought one. While waiting for the packing materials to be found, I looked at the nearby counters. There were some photo albums, one of which stopped me in mid-look with its cover photo of a baby feeding a young Berner from a baby bottle while a smaller Berner puppy was pulling down the baby's diaper from the rear. The photo was duplicated on the back cover.

"Naturally, I purchased both albums with this cover. When Brenda Abrams, a BMDCA member, visited a ceramics factory in Henan Province that made reproductions of Tang horses, she saw a calendar on an office wall showing this same picture of baby and Berners. The baby is clearly not Chinese. We can only wonder if some Swiss or German firm has a cooperative venture to make Tang horses in China."

Have you had any "strange encounters of the Bernese kind?"


The largest gathering of Bernese will be the BMDCA national specialty, April 28 through May 1 at The Embers Inn and Convention Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; (717) 243-1717. Join us!

Please note my new mailing address, courtesy of our 911 system.

-Julie Crawford, 26391 May Twilley Road, Delmar, MD 21875-6164.